By FATHER JOHN CATOR, CNS | Published June 3, 2004
On April 17, 2003, Pope John Paul II addressed the whole church with his latest encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia.” Here are some of my favorite quotes.
“The church draws its life from the Eucharist—this is the heart of the mystery of the church.” Jesus says: “Lo I am with you always, even to the close of the age” (Mt. 28:20).
Quoting Vatican Council II, the pope proclaims the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (“Lumen Gentium”).
“The church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift—but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.”
“The Mass is both the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and also the sacred banquet of the Lord’s body and blood.”
Pope John Paul quotes Pope Paul VI on this important point: “Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery, in order to be in accord with the Catholic faith, must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration so that the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine.”
The pope then quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of reconciliation before coming to Communion.” He goes on, “The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience.”
Regarding ecumenism, he stresses the need for true communion: “Every valid celebration of the Eucharist is performed in union not only with the proper bishop, but also with the pope, the body of bishops, all the clergy and with the entire people….
“While it is never legitimate to concelebrate in the absence of full communion (with the church), the same is not true with respect to the administration of the Eucharist under special circumstances to individual persons belonging to churches or ecclesial communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
“In such cases, in fact, the intention is to meet the grave spiritual need of an individual believer, not to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully established.”
“It is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers, in certain particular cases, are able to administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, penance and anointing of the sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes….”
In conclusion, the pope writes: “Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the church’s mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the eucharistic mystery…. In the Eucharist we have Jesus—we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?”
In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into the body and blood, Christ walks besides us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope—and unbounded love.